“I just needed to sleep; it wasn’t personal,” he murmured, focusing intently on his fidgeting hands to avoid my gaze. “During the war, to desensitize us, our superiors played the harrowing screams of dying men over the speakers in our barracks. Initially, it was deeply unsettling, but over time, I couldn’t sleep without it.” He yawned, revealing the dark circles under his eyes.
“I see,” I responded, sitting across the table from the soldier. “And this justifies your actions?”
Lifting his gaze briefly, he met my eyes, then quickly averted them. “No, not at all. What I did was inexcusably selfish.” He began to pull at his fingers, tugging each knuckle as if removing an unseen pair of gloves.
“Then why?” I pressed.
Suddenly alert, he straightened in his chair. “Why what?”
I stared at him, thinking he might be making a grim jest.
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening. I haven’t slept in three days, not since the police took me in. Can you remind me of our topic?”
His outburst surprised me, given his typical calm demeanor. Taking a deep breath, I recollected, “On June 14th, severed fingers were discovered at a waste sorting facility. They were traced back to you. The police subsequently found several bodies in a makeshift cell near your bed in your basement, and then…”
“Right, right,” he interrupted, “then they arrested me, and now I’m talking to you.”
I nodded, urging him on, “So, why did you do it?” Finally, the soldier looked at me intently.
“How many knuckles do you have, doctor?” Caught off guard, I tried to recall, but before I could respond, he provided the answer. “28. One for each day. That’s almost a full month.”
I felt a chill run down my spine. The thought of being kept alive for nearly a month, losing a piece of each finger daily, was horrifying. And the inevitable question: what would happen once the fingers were gone? Although we now knew the answer, the victims must have agonized over it daily. The uncertainty must have been tormenting. We’d initially believed the removed fingers were his signature, his trophies. “You tortured them,” I whispered.
“Each man was like a prescription. Every knuckle, a sleeping pill,” he murmured, once again looking at his fingers. “I just needed to sleep; it wasn’t personal.”